I grew up just south of New Orleans along the banks of the Mississippi River. There is something about the crescent city that gets into your blood -the food; the culture; the music; and did I mention the food? The city’s rich blend of diverse cultures and ethnicities throughout its nearly 300-year history make it quite unlike any other in the U.S. But there is another aspect of the city that gets into your system.
In 1968 my father took my mom, my older brother and me to watch the New Orleans Saints play at Tulane University’s outdoor stadium. It was the team’s second year in existence and I was eight years old. I can honestly say that I understood little of the game at the time. In fact, to this day, I can recall neither the opponent nor the final score. What I do remember is the connection I felt with my family and others sitting around us. For a few brief hours, total strangers became kindred souls. This was our city and we were cheering our team.
I would go on to watch the Saints play many games, both at Tulane stadium and later in the massive Superdome. Now, I realize that in the grand scheme of things, football ranks fairly low on the list of the most meaningful and important things in life. But in some ways it feels like more than just a game to me. It is a connection to the past and the place that helped raise and shape me. Although it has been years since I have called New Orleans home, whenever I watch the Saints take the field from wherever I happen to be, I am instantly flooded with memories: the feel of my eight-year old hand in mother’s hand as we cross a hot asphalt parking lot towards a towering red brick stadium standing against a bright blue sky; the joy on the faces around us when our guys in white and gold run into the end zone; my dad’s face smiling down at us as he asks, “Are you boys having a good time?”
Yes. Yes, we were.
But life goes on. The days that, for that young boy, seemed to drag on, now fly by. Along the way, there were new discoveries about life and love; about the world and about myself. Time has been marked by both the mundane and the milestones – learning to drive; a first kiss; a broken heart; a passing away; a goodbye. Friends have come and friends have gone. Through college and shifting jobs, from small choices to life-changing decisions, in triumphs and tragedies there has always been football and the life-lessons it taught. Work hard. Play fair. Always believe. Never give up.
This Sunday begins a new season of NFL football when the New Orleans Saints will once again take on their division rivals the Atlanta Falcons. I have, with the help of that eight year old boy who still lives somewhere inside this tired body, put together a short animated video in celebration of the game, the city, and the team I love. I hope that it somehow touches the child inside of you and that you enjoy it.
And by the way…WHO DAT!